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Tuesday 11 June 2019 9:51am

Patient sitting in dental chair in new facilities

One of the “highest tech” dental facilities in the world officially opened recently – the hospital-level patient-treatment building for New Zealand's only national centre for dentistry, at the University of Otago.

“To see the building and what we have got, and what we can do in the future, is just fantastic,“ Faculty of Dentistry acting Dean Professor Karl Lyons says.

The faculty is also constructing a new building in Counties Manukau to help meet high health needs while providing students with wide-ranging learning opportunities in a diverse community that will increase their understanding of people from a range of backgrounds.
Jamie Cargill is the project director for construction of both the Counties and Dunedin building, which has been a once in a lifetime opportunity to work on a dental hospital because not many are built around the world – now he is thrilled staff, students and the public are using it.
“This project is also a great investment in Dunedin. The national centre for dentistry has been here for over 100 years and this will mean it's here for at least another 50-plus – and that's exciting.”

He has been working on the project for more than five years – from design to build – and will be moving on to the next phase soon, gutting and rebuilding the interior of the Walsh Building, which is in front of the new building in Great King Street.

Division of Health Sciences Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Brunton says moving into the new building also involves adopting new ways, including:

  • The 214 new patient chairs – 61 more than previously - have integrated computers so
    • Patients' records can be seen on a screen on the chair
    • The results of x-rays and scans can be seen on the screen, by the student, supervisor and patient
    • Images from a digital camera that takes photos inside patients' mouths can be seen on the screen
    • A computerised self-cleaning system ensures infection prevention standards are stringent
    • Software (Vionex) monitors each chair's functioning so any maintenance needs are immediately obvious and can be dealt with
  • Student tutorial spaces linked to patient treatment areas, which integrates technology to enrich the learning experience
  • No longer using potentially hazardous chemicals to produce x-rays, the work is done digitally

Another major change is using electronic patients records instead of paper files, Professor Brunton says.

Previously, only patients' names, contact details and financial records were kept electronically, everything else was in paper files taken from one place to another as patients were assessed and treated – during about 76,000 treatments annually for the public.

In the new building, the electronic patient management system Titanium has been broadened to cover more tasks so all new files will be completely electronic. As in any health environment, staff and students will be allowed access to relevant patients' files only and have to sign a confidentiality agreement, he says.

With the new system:

  • Every time a patient is assessed or treated, students and supervisors can simply call up the patient's electronic record
  • Students can immediately enter details of the treatment they are providing
  • Instead of administration staff using details in the paper patient files to monitor waiting lists, academic staff can easily compare electronic records to add patients to waiting lists and adjust the list as needed
  • Collaboration about patients' care among the various dentistry disciplines is much easier because they can all instantly see what assessments, prevention measures, restoration and rehabilitation work other disciplines have done or are planning
  • The various disciplines can view a patient's file simultaneously rather than waiting for a paper file to arrive, and can discuss the patient from different locations while looking at the same electronic file
  • Academic staff have an easy electronic way to monitor the types of patients each student has been treating, to select appropriate patients to fill any gaps in each student's learning.

Using the up-graded Titanium system also helps prepare students for the workplace because most district health boards around New Zealand use Titanium – the software is one of the most commonly used in the health sector in Australasia. Many private practices also use a similar version of Titanium software, Professor Brunton says.


Having an electronic system will help solve one of the most common complaints patients make to the Faculty of Dentistry as well, that they did not know what their treatment was going to cost.

Staff and students can print out a treatment estimate to discuss with patients before treatment starts.

Despite all the changes, this University service continues to aim to provide patients with quality treatment at an attractive cost, recognising patients play a vital role in helping to train the students, Professor Brunton says.


The new systems were introduced first at Orthodontics in the Faculty of Dentistry and the Te Kaika health, social and education clinic in Caversham in Dunedin – which provided opportunities to smooth out any complications with both the up-graded electronic systems and new processes.

All existing processes were documented by a business analyst from the moment a potential patient contacts the Faculty of Dentistry until the patient leaves its care, including investigations into patients' possible eligibility for funding.

That formed the basis for new processes and about 80 per cent of them were introduced before staff and students started using the new building, in preparation for the move.

Occupation of the new building

The public began being treated in the new building early this month, when the urgent care clinic started taking a few patients.
All those patients used the new public entrance from Frederick Street which opens into a four-storey atrium and general reception that this project added between the new building and dentistry's existing Walsh Building.

All the public clinics should be open from the start of the second semester on 8 July, but the existing clinics in the Walsh Building will stay in place initially in case they are needed for any reason.

Staff and students have had a building orientation and received more training on new equipment and systems in the build-up to the official opening, Professor Brunton says.

For more information, please contact

Gail Goodger, Communications Adviser
Tel +64 21 279 8946


The Faculty of Dentistry

  • Performs about 76,000 dental treatments annually for the public from around the South Island
  • Includes undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in dentistry, oral health and dental technology
  • Includes the Sir John Walsh Research Institute
  • The University of Otago has been home to New Zealand's national centre of dentistry since 1907 and it has been on its current site since 1961

This project

  • The new 8,000m2 building houses specialty and teaching clinics, the Primary Care Unit, and radiography, and surgical suites
  • Now, the existing 8,000m2 Walsh Building will be refurbished to house research laboratories, academic offices, student support, and teaching laboratories
  • The two buildings will linked by an 1800 square metre atrium – the 'heart' of the facility, used by patients, students and staff. The atrium has already been built but is not yet linked to the Walsh Building
  • The University's budget for this project – the new building, Walsh refurbishment and atrium – is about $130 million dollars
  • The Walsh Building has a heritage-listed, glass-curtain facade in Great King Street which will be carefully upgraded and replicated with a facade that meets current standards for weather-proofing and heat retention. The mosaic north-facing wall will also be cleaned and refurbished. Both those tasks will involve Salmond-Reed Heritage specialists and ongoing consultation with Heritage New Zealand, which lists the 1961-built modernist building as a Category 1 historic place


  • Leighs Cockram JV was the main contractor. It is a joint venture company made up of Christchurch-based Leighs Construction and Australian-based Cockram construction (now Ion Constructions). When appointed, some of the Leighs Cockram JV team had just completed the Burwood Hospital project in Christchurch
  • Many Otago sub-contractors employed more staff – boosting the local economy – and showcased their skills working on this project
  • The new building is based on 225 micropiles
  • A huge 50-metre tall tower crane was used to construct the new building. The Libherr crane:
    • Arrived in six semi-trailers from Smith Crane and Construction in Christchurch then was assembled by two cranes from the company's yard in Invercargill
    • Was higher than the 37-metre tall Forsyth Barr Stadium
    • Was shorter than Dunedin's tallest building – the top of First Church's spire, which is 56.3 metres above the ground
    • Had a section was embedded in 80 cubic metres of concrete, as an anchor
    • Had a 45-metre long main boom and could lift up to 12 tonne
  • More than 100 contractors were on site simultaneously every day when the building project was at its peak

The new patient chairs

  • Were manufactured at DentsplySirona's factory in Germany and shipped to Dunedin in 20 containers, with some radiography equipment
  • Every chair (Sinius Treatment Centre) has a host of services attached – including power, data, water, drainage, compressed air, dental suction and a central dosing system that cleans internal pipework
  • DentsplySirona installed the chairs using staff from a local experienced medical engineering company who received factory training from DentsplySirona in Bensheim, then the manufacturer's technicians from Germany also helped as work ramped up
  • DentsplySirona provided trainers from Germany and Australia to ensure the University's super-users learnt about the chairs' full capabilities and their associated equipment. Those super-users ran on-going training sessions for staff and students before they occupied the new building and helped afterwards

The Counties Manukau project

  • The $28.3 million dental teaching facility and patient treatment clinic started being built in mid-December 2018 on land owned by the Counties Manukau District Health Board, beside the SuperClinic in Great South Road
  • The two-storey, 32-chair building is on target for completion before the start of the academic year in February 2020, all going to plan
  • Not only will the Faculty of Dentistry regularly consult the community to find out what it needs from the clinics then work to deliver that, the Faculty will also provide a wide range of outreach activities
  • The clinic will follow the long-standing social contract model operated successfully in Dunedin, where patients receive treatment provided by students under supervision at a highly accessible cost
  • At any one time, 48 final-year Bachelor of Dental Surgery students will be assigned to the Counties Manukau facility
  • Having an Auckland base in an area home to a large number of oral healthcare professionals will make it easier for them to access continuing education opportunities
  • The facility could help meet international demand for upskilling dentists as well, because Auckland is so accessible
  • The concrete floor slab is being poured this month for level one
  • The concrete has been poured for the ground floor slab already
  • Ninety-five per cent of the structural steel has been erected
  • This South Auckland project will be partly-funded by the most significant single donation in the University's almost 150 year history – $10 million from internationally renowned businessman and philanthropist Graeme Hart and his wife Robyn

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